Judge asks government to buy land worth Sh1 billion to settle squatters

A judge has urged the government to buy land worth Sh1 billion to settle squatters in Kilifi County.

In a judgment delivered in favour of a Kilifi land owner, Environment and Land Court judge Lucas Naikuni told the government, through the Attorney General, National Land Commission and the county government, to purchase the land and settle the squatters within 30 days from the date of judgement.

Justice Naikuni, who gave an alternative order to the one set to evict the squatters, laid down social and benevolent steps to be taken to save the squatters from being thrown out of the property.

He said the government should consider the doctrine of compulsory acquisition of the suit land by purchasing it from the plaintiff to settle the squatters and their properties.

The judge also gave the defendants the option of embracing the offer to purchase the portion of land they occupy by entering into a mutual agreement with the land owner at a reasonable and equitable rate within the next 90 days.

The squatters lost the case over a 40-acre land at Kijipwa in Kilifi County on November 7 this year after legally battling the landowner, Halal Brother's Limited for 27 years.

The case was handled by ten judges, including Mr Justice Naikuni, sitting in Mombasa, who delivered the decision on November 7 this year.

The land has been valued at Sh1 billion in addition to other property worth Sh500 million.

Mr Roy Rimba, Mr Roy Nyale and Mr Kahindi represented hundreds of squatters in the battle for plot number Kilifi/Kijipwa/48, which currently goes for Sh20 million per acre.

In his judgment, Justice Naikuni ordered the squatters to be evicted within 90 days and slapped them with Sh10 million in general damages for trespass, an amount to be paid to the petitioner.

According to the decision, the squatters are expected to quit the land on or before February 28, 2024.

The judge said this would justly and fairly compensate the land owner in line with the principles of land policy provision of articles 10 and 60 (1) of the Constitution.

He also told the defendants to embrace the offer to purchase the portion of land they are occupying by entering into a mutually agreed upon sale agreement terms and contract conditions stipulated as per the laws of contract Cap 23 and the Land Registration Act Number 3 of 2012 and Section 38 of the Land Act Number 6 of 2012 at equitable rates within the next 90 days from the delivery of the judgment.

Justice Naikuni said the defendants never produced even photographs to demonstrate that they were in actual possession and occupation of the suit land.

"For these reasons, the relief sought on the title through land adverse possession in the amended defence and counter-claims fails," he ruled.

He said there was no occupation as alleged, and the court noted that there has never been any continuous and uninterrupted stay with all those protracted legal suits from over 27 years.

Justice Naikuni said the defence on historical injustice was never pleaded during the hearing by the defendants.

"I wish to point out that the phenomenon of squatters invading people's land in the coastal region is taking precedence and needs to be controlled before it gets out of hand.

"For instance, the famous Waitiki case of the Likoni settlement scheme needs to be adopted to ameliorate the situation. For these reasons, I decline to grant orders prayed in counter-claim," said Justice Naikuni.

He declared that the suit land is legally registered in the name of Halai Brothers Limited from March 26, 1996.

He said the plaintiff established a prima facie case on the principles of preponderance probabilities and the balance of convenience.

The judge issued a permanent injunction restraining the defendants, their relatives, agents, servants and/or any person from alienating, wasting, developing, subdividing, charging, trespassing or encroaching on the property.